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For Mickey Mouse, mobile is serious business

Last updated on: April 11, 2011 10:27 IST

For Mickey Mouse, mobile is serious business

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Devjyot Ghosal

Mickey Mouse is going mobile in India.

The Walt Disney Company, among the world's largest media and entertainment firms, established by the eponymous co-creator of the iconic cartoon, is keen to capitalise on the subcontinents' burgeoning mobile space to reach new audiences.

India is a key market for the company, given the country's demographics, as it is home to a substantial and growing young population, along with increasing middle-class affluence and an emergent craving for world-class entertainment.

But instead of singularly focusing on the more traditional medium of television, Disney wants to harness the handset in one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world.

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Image: India is a key market for Walt Disney.
Photographs: Reuters
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For Mickey Mouse, mobile is serious business

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Its portfolio in India consists of three channels - Disney Channel, Disney XD and Hungama TV - as well as feature films, scripted and reality series and formats and live action content.

"Unlike in many other countries where mobile is probably the third screen, in India, given the low penetration of PCs, mobile is going to be the second screen.

"And for some, mobile is going to be the first screen, given that even the TV penetration is not so high," said Raju Venkataraman, vice-president and general manager of Disney Media Distribution.

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Image: Disney's portfolio in India includes Disney Channel.
Photographs: Reuters
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For Mickey Mouse, mobile is serious business

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"We can give long-form and short-form content, as appropriate, and we have a blend of both that can be made available in language content.

"With the telecom provider in Andhra Pradesh, we can provide the content in Telugu; with one in Tamil Nadu, we can provide the content in Tamil," he said.

And the opportunity is being quickly converted into business.

Disney has already partnered with Apalya, an end-to-end mobile video platform provider, to make available a substantial number of its popular shows on mobile handsets or through data card connections. Apalya-enabled applications run on most Indian mobile service providers and the firm has 4-4.5 million subscribers currently.

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Image: Hungama TV is part of Disney's portfolio.
Photographs: Reuters
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For Apalya, which counts Mumbai Angels and Qualcomm among its investors, the numbers itself are proof of the prospects for its business in India.

"There are about 130 million TVs in India, compared to between 700-800 million mobile phones in the country. Moreover, most households have a single TV with around 10-15 channels.

"With 3G having come in and 4G already auctioned out, there is huge potential in the country," says Apalya's director Vamshi Reddy.

India, one of the hungriest markets for smart phones, according to Reddy, may end up with  50-80 million 3G-enabled over the next  years, thereby opening up a space where data will be increasingly in demand.

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Image: Disney has partnered with Apalya.
Photographs: Reuters
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For Mickey Mouse, mobile is serious business

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"At the end of the day, video is the driver. Data comprises the major part of revenue, even as the share of voice is going down," said Reddy.

More data will translate into further distribution flexibility for Disney, which had thrived by latching on to newer technologies and making them work.

In the United States, for instance, Disney went against the norm to introduce Subscription Video-on-Demand.

"For many years, the Disney channel was just a cable linear experience. In 2003, we launched the first SVOD service for Disney channel with a company called CableVision in New York.

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Image: Video is the driver, says Apalya's director Vamshi Reddy.
Photographs: Reuters
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"It started out with just 20-40 hours of catch-up content which was refreshed every month. It was the first deal ever done," said Disney Media Network's global distribution president Benjamin Pyne.

"But we transformed that because we found it supplemented the experiences, so we started putting premiers of shows on the channels.

"Conventional wisdom was that it would destroy the broadcast. But it had the opposite effect. It's about delivering the experience so that consumers can have access to content," he added.

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Image: In the US, Disney introduced Subscription Video-on-Demand.
Photographs: Reuters
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In India, too, Disney went ahead and launched content in multiple languages, but with the coming of direct-to-home technology, audiences were effectively able to choose the language of their preference rather than that of their neighbourhood cable operator.

"The second thing that we have been able to do with these platforms given their technology is supply video on demand.

"We are working with several of our DTH partners to take our movies after a certain window on a VOD (video-on-demand)," said Venkataraman.

More telling, however, is Venkataraman's admission of not attempting to "to build the Walt Disney Company in India", but rather "the Indian Walt Disney Company".

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Image: Entertainment giant wants to build Indian Walt Disney Company.
Photographs: Reuters
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